A pilot project utilizing wind power to desalinate brackish groundwater in West Texas will get a jump-start thanks to a $500,000 grant from the Office of Rural Community Affairs (ORCA) in Austin.

Announced today, the grant to the City of Seminole (Gaines County) from ORCA’s Renewable Energy Demonstration Pilot Program will help fund the $1,075,000 project.

The project holds great promise for rural communities in West Texas and the Panhandle needing to develop new sources of drinking water, said Charles S. (Charlie) Stone, ORCA executive director.

“This project could be a roadmap for how our rural communities can use wind power to help meet future water needs,” Stone said.

The project would be the first in the United States to use wind power to desalinate drinking water for an inland municipality, as opposed to a town located on a coastline.

Seminole’s proposal to ORCA calls for groundwater to be pumped from the deep, brackish Santa Rosa aquifer. A 50-kilowatt wind turbine will help power a reverse osmosis plant that will make the water drinkable for the town’s residents.

ORCA is partnering with Texas Tech University, which has been working three years with Seminole on the design and economics of wind-driven groundwater desalinization systems.

“This project represents an innovative approach ORCA can take to help rural communities meet basic human needs, such as clean, reliable sources of drinking water,” said Wallace Klussmann, chairman of ORCA’s governing board.

Seminole, like many West Texas towns, draws its drinking water from the Ogallala Aquifer, which is rapidly being depleted. The town has no access to surface water supplies.

And the cost of electricity to operate a reverse osmosis plant large enough to meet the town’s water needs was cost prohibitive, said Jamie Chapman of Texas Tech’s Wind Science and Engineering Research Center.

“Seminole can make this project affordable by tapping into the strong wind power resources in West Texas,” Chapman said. “With this ORCA grant, we can get this pilot project underway.”

The wind turbine will provide the electricity for a reverse osmosis plant that, depending on the aquifer characteristics, will produce up to 30,000 gallons per day of drinking water for the city.

If the project is successful, Chapman said Seminole eventually plans to install three megawatts of wind turbines to power a reverse osmosis plant large enough treat a future peak demand of three million gallons of water per day. Seminole currently uses about two million gallons per day on average from the Ogallala aquifer.

In addition to the ORCA grant, the project calls for Seminole to contribute $400,000 in cash, land and in-kind services. Texas Tech will contribute $25,000 in data collection and analysis and Entegrity Wind Systems will donate for two years a wind turbine valued at $150,000. After two years, Entegrity likely would lease the turbine to Seminole, Chapman said.

“We are grateful to ORCA for its leadership on addressing the critical water needs of Seminole and the region,” said Seminole Mayor Mike Carter.

Seminole also has submitted to the Texas Water Development Board a request for additional funds for this project.

ORCA’s state review committee, a group of 12 local elected officials who are appointed by the Governor to approve grants awarded from community development block grant funds, recently approved the ORCA funds for the two-year project.

Stone said many rural communities have benefited economically in terms of jobs, tax revenues and landowner royalties from the large wind farms in West Texas and the Panhandle that now produce about 4,500 megawatts of electricity, or about three percent of the state’s electricity.

“The potential now exists for towns such as Seminole and even rural school districts to cut their energy costs by putting up their own wind power projects,” Stone said.

ORCA’s governing body in 2007 approved allocating $500,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds for a Renewable Energy Demonstration Pilot Program. Another $500,000 for the program has been allocated for fiscal 2009.

As the state agency dedicated solely to rural Texas, ORCA makes the broad resources of state government more accessible to rural communities. ORCA was created by the 77th Legislature to ensure a continuing focus on rural issues, monitor governmental actions affecting rural Texas, research problems and recommend solutions, and administer rural-focused state and federal resources. ORCA is the door to Texas government for rural citizens. For more information, visit ORCA online at www.orca.state.tx.us.